In The Dark Side of the Enlightenment, John V. Fleming shows how the impulses of the European Enlightenment-generally associated with great strides in the liberation of human thought from superstition and traditional religion-were challenged by tenacious religious ideas or channeled into the darker pursuits of the esoteric and the occult. His engaging topics include the stubborn survival of the miraculous, the Enlightenment roles of Rosicrucianism and Freemasonry, and the widespread pursuit of magic and alchemy. Though we tend t to associate what was once called alchemy with what we w call chemistry, Fleming shows that the difference is merely one of linguistic modernization. Alchemy was once the chemistry, of Arabic derivation, and its practitioners were among the principal scientists and physicians of their ages. No point is more important for understanding the strange and fascinating figures in this book than the prestige of alchemy among the learned men of the age. Fleming follows some of these complexities and contradictions of the Age of Lights into the biographies of two of its extraordinary offspring. The first is the controversial wizard kwn as Count Cagliostro, the Egyptian freemason, unconventional healer, and alchemist kwn most infamously for his ambiguous association with the Affair of the Diamond Necklace, which history has viewed as among the possible harbingers of the French Revolution and a major contributing factor in the growing unpopularity of Marie Antoinette. Fleming also reviews the career of Julie de Krudener, the sentimental velist, Pietist preacher, and political mystic who would later become torious as a prophet. Impressively researched and wonderfully erudite, this rich narrative history sheds light on some lesser-kwn mental extravagances and beliefs of the Enlightenment era and brings to life some of the most extraordinary characters ever encountered either in history or fiction.
John V. Fleming, a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, taught humanistic studies at Princeton University for forty years. He is the author of The Anti-Communist Manifestos: Four Books That Shaped the Cold War. He lives in Princeton, New Jersey.